Back in 1820, Russian Tzar Nicholas I built a massive prison on the Baltic coast just outside of Tallinn, Estonia, which was so good at making prisoners cower remorsefully before the might of the hegemony, that it remained in commission right up until...
Disclaimer: Some of you might remember this article from a few years back when we still lived at Viceland. Unfortunately, when we moved to VICE.com it disappeared, so now we've dug it up. Enjoy.
Back in 1820, Russian Tzar Nicholas I built a massive prison on the Baltic coast just outside of Tallinn, which was so good at making prisoners cower remorsefully before the might of the hegemony that it remained in operation right up until 2004. Embraced by the KGB during Soviet times, it was only upon joining the EU that the Estonians decided to pull the plug on the two-century operation. This was probably because having a fully functioning gulag on the outskirts of your capital doesn't exactly line up with Angela Merkel's vision of a democratic continent.
After the last prisoners were shipped to cells somewhere marginally more humane, Patarei Prison ("the Battery," in English) was left abandoned. Thankfully, for our purposes, the authorities left behind the dank, medievalesque surroundings that housed thousands of men reading comics about Jesus and jerking off furiously to pictures of Lisa from Steps culled from smuggled in copies of Smash Hits. If these walls could talk...
Tallinn's a small place, so getting to the prison on foot was no problem. Yet after stepping through the wrought iron gates of the gigantic triangular complex, the civilities of Estonia's township seemed an echelon away.
Inside the jail, a watchman would sit atop the cramped walking courts, watching the Battery's farm minions pace in frantic circles as they tried to suck in as much fresh Baltic air as they could during their weekly hour outdoors.
The prison cells, spread across four floors, assumed their own hierarchy, with basement chambers at the bottom resembling the bowels of hell. Here, the perpetual dampness and moisture was used as a psychological trauma tool by the KGB to keep prisoners constantly ill and uncomfortable. If I had to guess, I'd say the prisoners weren't able to find much solace in "Dominator 2."
Across the yard, a small corridor led to what was affectionately known as the hanging chamber. For centuries, a ladder like this one was used to unpick the noose from around recently departed prisoners' necks. The bodies were then carried over to the cliff face and thrown into the sea.
Relative to the basement squalor and antilulz of the hanging chamber, climbing the first floor to the organizational hub of the operation seemed like an ascension into peerless luxury. Check out these office units, meeting rooms, what looks like a performance space, and store houses full of motivational posters. It's like that game Theme Hospital, but in a prison.
This poster warned the prisoners not to fuck each other too much, lest they pick up a nasty parcel of gonorrhoea or the prison's other free gift—AIDS.
Here's the prison hospital, where inmates would be treated for wounds incurred while fighting with canteen cutlery on acid. During the Soviet era, the prison held mostly political prisoners. Capitalist sympathizers would be pumped full of hallucinogenic drugs that would drive them dangerously insane, in turn justifying their ongoing incarceration. Summer of love, baby... :(
Just to remind you, this place was still being used in 2004, the year Facebook was launched.
There was also this small, dimly lit library. Unreturned books remained scattered across the entire prison.
Looking closer at the spread of weathered tomes left out on the window ledge, they all seemed to be about Jesus, which is surely the most unoriginal way to pacify a criminal. At least during the Soviet times they had ideologically approved texts by Marx and Lenin, who were kind of cool in their own way because you could call yourself a revolutionary at the end of it. But, fucking Jesus? Jesus is SO lame. What did he ever revolutionize?
Here are some more of the prisoners' cells higher up the building. Ain't so bad, huh?
Although this toilet is pretty grim. Bet the prisoners came up with some great games using this. Would hate to be a new inmate going through initiations in that cell. Still, at least you could clean yourself off afterward. Shower time!
Ever since, Louis Theroux taught us what prison gunning was (drive-by ejaculations aimed at female staff members, in case you missed it), it's been clear that one of the most taxing things to deal with in prison is finding ways to unleash all the pent-up masculine libido, which men who fight each other as a lifestyle choice tend to have.
Being a big masturbator myself, I was most touched by the limply collaged wank banks that still litter the prison walls. Those little bolt holes of breathlessly constructed sexual reverie dreamed up by inmates determined not to resort to another aggressive showertime fingering. So, what do political prisoners in Estonia like to jerk it to, other than Cher?
No. Try girls climbing ladders, racing-car drivers, and babbling brooks. Squint, and the wankee might transport himself into an escapist fantasy. A fast-paced adventure bukkake in nature, far from the vaginaless duress of Patarei. If I was trying to be poignant, I'd say that maybe the biggest pin-up for these guys was FREEDOM ITSELF.
Not sure Tsar Nicholas had this picture of Jordan in mind when he was thinking about wall decorations. I like to call this photo "Ripping Jordan's tits off and finding nothing but my own prison walls."
Oddly this picture of Lisa from Steps, with her face missing, was plastered above the toilets. How Smash! Hits found its way into this Estonian gulag beats me. We tried to call Lisa from Steps to get a comment, but she wouldn't talk to us. Not surprising, given that she has no face.
But most impressive of all was this awesome fresco that had been scrawled up on the walls in one particularly grim cell. A gnarly black knight chopping through a drawbridge in front of an oblivious naked woman who's giving everyone staring at her the eye. What was the guy in this cell trying to do? Attract the attentions of daily inmate wank gangs?
So, anyway, isn't prison horrible? I bet this building site wasn't in the brochure, either.
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